Where Byatt's earlier novels The Virgin in the Garden (1978) and Still Life (1985) rely upon straightforward allusions to art and literature, Possession's manufactured intertextuality requires next to no knowledge on the part of a reader for the vicarious experience of the literary echoing to be enjoyed. The characters cue less scholarly readers to moments of allusive frisson. Reading Possession is not hard work. As Louise Yelin points out, it appeals both to 'middlebrow' and 'culturally literate' audiences: 'It entices us with its depiction of scholarship as a detective game... and it flatters us by offering us the pleasures of recognizing the intertextual allusions and revisionary rewritings out of which it is made' ('Cultural Cartography' 38). Choked with literary allusions and in-jokes, Possession's satire and social comedy rely upon some familiarity with literary history and academic types, but its main accomplishment is the presentation of the romance of learning and scholarship in a package as undemanding to the reader as any other romance plot. Just as one need know little about submarines or dinosaurs to enjoy The Hunt for Red October (1984) or Jurassic Park (1990), Possession's literary material, like the techno-babble of Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton, requires only that the reader notes the attribution of expertise to specific characters.
Keen, Suzanne. Romances of the Archive. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2002.